The Lord’s Prayer (1) – SOTM Series 8
With the Advent and Christmas season behind us, Little Flowers Community is returning to our study on the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM). The next two Sundays has us exploring the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-10). As I began to prepare my notes for the first Sunday it became immediately clear that two weeks does not allow even a fraction of the time needed to dive into the powerful text. As a community, we may return to it in more detail later this year. This week we are looking at only part of the prayer.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
While the word “hypocrite” is meaningful for us today, when Jesus used the word, it would have had a more immediate connection to its root meaning- that is the Greek actors of the day. Jesus was making it clear that the “quality” of ones prayers were not measured by the eloquence or sophistication. We should not pray in ways that we think people want us to pray, nor is the depth of our faith measured by the theological words one uses. Rather, prayer was genuine insofar as it was sincerely about God alone.
If God the Father already knows what we need, why then should we pray at all? Clearly we are not informing God or even coercing God. Instead, prayer is a declaration of our dependence on Him, an act of submission to the Lordship of Christ. Further, it is the exercise of the authority given to us by God, authority in heaven and on earth. Do our prayers move God? I believe they do, but the complexities of what that means & how that works is topic enough for another time. Ultimately, prayer is not about convincing God that our priorities are right, but rather that we must be orienting our hearts and lives around His priorities. This is made clear in how Jesus goes on to teach us to pray:
“This, then, is how you should pray: ” ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
While this prayer is in many ways very (and importantly) unique, Jesus is not creating this prayer out of thin air. The Jewish people of His day prayed regularly several times throughout the day, most often using formal prayers, both privately and collectively. The prayer Jesus teaches us here uses many of the same phrases and emphases as these other prayers. This is important to note because Jesus was not rejecting the traditions and liturgies of His people, but reorienting them to their intended focus. In many ways, Jesus is significantly celebrating the learned, shared and formal prayers of His Jewish heritage.
However, the prayer also significantly unique. Unlike the typical prayers of the Jews, it did not identify God as the God of Israel (i.e. “God of Abraham, Isaac…), but rather He taught us to address God as “Our Father”. The word Jesus used was the Aramaic equivalent of our “Daddy” or “Papa”. While still a title of authority and respect, it was one of intimacy and love. Further, it did not limit His Fatherhood to just the Jews, but made it universal. This was further reinforced by the use of Aramaic in the prayer. For the Jews, Hebrew was the sacred language, thus used for prayer. By calling God Abba (expanding the focus for Israel to all peoples) and using Aramaic (ultimately saying that there was no longer a sacred language or that all languages were ultimately sacred), Jesus was shifting prayer into the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant that His people would be a blessing to all nations. This is a foreshadow of Pentecost!
As an important aside, it is also in this universal understanding of God’s Fatherhood over all people that we must then orient our lives in relationship to each other. No longer do religious, traditional or even familial loyalties take priority in how we live. Now all women and men are our sisters and brothers. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said He would set families against each other (Matthew 10)? Or when He said “Who is my mother? Brothers?” (Matthew 12). Is it that now, our primary loyal is to our Father, then to His children? And so, whenever our other loyalties conflict with this, it is to our heavenly Father’s family that we must give privilege? These are important and difficult questions to ask.
The opening lines of this prayer are by no means semantic embellishment, designed to butter God up until we got to the important things, such as our needs. Far from it! Rather, the order reflects where our priorities must be in prayer and all of life. It is with God first and foremost that our priorities lie. “Our Father, who is in heaven” is not a declaration of His location, but a powerfully contrasting statement of His authority. He is both our loving, intimate Abba, yet also the powerful and unequaled King. “Hallowed be Your name” would better be translated, “May your name be made holy”, which every Jew listening knew (in part) came about by how they, His chosen people, reflected His holiness in their lives. “Your Kingdom come” demands an active submission to His Lordship, working through the power and direction of the Holy Spirit to establish that Kingdom. “Your will be done” is a declaration of our duty to discern and obey, individually and collectively, His will (which, with the prior reference to the Kingdom is clearly more than just living moral lives). And finally, “on earth as it is in heaven” is a foreshadow of the completion of His work, when the new heavens and the new earth come together in the great Resurrection of all Creation for His glory.
It is only then, after such powerful and all consuming submission is declared, that our other needs for sustenance, forgiveness and deliverance are made. To be a Christians, sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ, completely and unwaveringly submitted to His Lordship, means that His holiness, His Kingdom and His will must be, without even one exception, the priority of our lives. All else MUST be secondary. And there is not reason to do otherwise, for as our Father, He will meet all our needs. Jesus reinforces this emphasis later in Matthew 6:33, calling us to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, knowing that all the other things will be given to us by Him when (and if) they are needed.
Teach us to pray, Lord Jesus.
Lord God in whom we are united as one Body, one family, sister & brother,
May Your name be made holy by Your Word & by the witness of us, Your people.
May Your Kingdom be established here and now,
May Your will be our first & most immediate priority, just as it is to the angels above.
Provide for us the essentials for life together and obedience to You.
Let the gift of Your undeserved grace for us overflow from us onto those who have wronged us.
Lead us on Your path, away from the empty promises & hidden snares of temptation.
Rescue us from every scheme of sin & darkness which would take us from that path.
For you are King, this is Your Kingdom and we are Your citizens & servants.
All we are, all we have & all we will do is by Your power and for Your glory alone,
In the past, in the present and in the future.
Tags: Sermon on the Mount